Early childhood education and development

Strengthening Support for Children with Disabilities

From left: Rachel Schachter, Sue Sheridan, Gwen Nugent, Lisa Knoche, all of UNL, and Sue Bainter, Nebraska Department of Education.

Parents of young children with disabilities face unique challenges and special stresses. So, too, do the personnel who help these families.

Coaching gives early childhood intervention workers tools and assistance to help them better meet the needs of the families they support, ultimately improving children’s development.

Nebraska researchers partnered with the state to strengthen its coaching infrastructure and to guide coaches in how to better assist early intervention personnel. Ongoing support helps professionals incorporate what they learn into their everyday practice.

“Families rely on early intervention services to promote the healthy development of their children,” said Lisa Knoche, project director and research associate professor in the Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families and Schools. “The work is challenging. Professionals need support. Having a sounding board is really important to implementing what we know to be evidence-based practices.”

The four-year project aims to develop a coaching model that can be expanded across the state and nationally. More than 3,200 infants and toddlers in Nebraska and nearly 400,000 nationally receive early childhood intervention services.

Researchers – in partnership with the Nebraska Early Development Network, which provides these services – are training state-level and locally based coaches to work with intervention personnel. Participants, including families, will provide feedback to help researchers evaluate and refine the coaching model.

The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t hindered the project. But it has highlighted the need for a strong coaching system, as caseloads skyrocket and family situations become more complex due to increasing strain and service interruptions, Knoche said.

Developing an important and nationally relevant program wouldn’t be possible without the university’s close relationship with Nebraska’s Department of Education and Department of Health and Human Services, she adds.

“By working in close partnership with the state structure, our intent is to create a system that can be sustained. That’s key. This is an example of how a solid research plan can come out of a strong, long-term partnership.”

A $1.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education funds this project.

+ Additional content for Strengthening Support for Children with Disabilities

Nebraska news release: Husker researchers awarded $1.6M to strengthen services for infants, toddlers